A coalition of anti-Israel students at the University of Waterloo obtained 4000 signatures to put a resolution to a full student body vote completely severing ties with several Israeli academic institutions:

In November 2015, the Federation of Students received a petition of over 4000 signatures to initiate a referendum for the following question:

“Do you think the University of Waterloo should sever ties with the following institutions due to their complicity in violations of the human rights of Palestinians: University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science?”

As per the Feds by-laws, “A Referendum for any purpose connected with the affairs of the Corporation may only be called by: A requisition in writing of either twenty-nine hundred (2900) voting members or at least ten percent (10%) of the voting members of the Corporation, whichever is fewer..” Feds President Chris Lolas was then to verify the validity of the signatures. It was determined that over 2900 signatures were from voting members of Feds, and a referendum was called.

The resolution would have been non-binding on the University, but would have committed student government to advocating for the boycott, including cancellation of a 2014 academic cooperation agreement with The Technion, frequently referred to as Israeli’s MIT.

This was not just a “divestment” resolution, it was a full-blown academic BDS resolution. The only other such vote I’m aware of in the U.S. was at Bowdoin College in May 2015, which overwhelmingly was rejected by the student body.

After an intensive campaign from both the “Yes” and “No” (also here) sides, the results were just announced by the student government:

The ballots have been counted, and many students at the University of Waterloo don’t want to sever ties with the institutions named in the referendum question. Vice-President, Education Stephane Hamade made the announcement at 12:30 p.m. in the SLC Great Hall.

Students were able to vote from January 25-27 at vote.feds.ca, or at a polling station in the Student Life Centre. A total of 4216 students voted – 1803 of them voted “yes,” 2329 of them voted “no,” and 84 students declined.

“Following this result, the official stance of the Federation of Students is that we do not have a stance on the University of Waterloo severing ties with the institutions mentioned in the referendum question,” said Hamade. “This means Feds will not be advocating for this because of the results.

It’s interesting that just as at Bowdoin, far fewer students voted in favor of the Resolution than signed the Petition. At Bowdoin, anti-boycott students explained to me that students were hesitant not to sign a petition — any petition — when asked by another student. That makes sense, but also allows anti-Israel groups to exploit the referendum process by forcing the entire student body to vote.

The other interesting thing is that whereas the Bowdoin turnout was 85%, at Waterloo it was only about 15% of the total student body. Usually, when there is such low turnout BDS benefits.


[Poster used by Vote No Waterloo]

Prediction: The BDS losers will claim victory because they forced the entire university to discuss boycotting Israel.

In the U.S., the American Anthropological Association is considering an academic boycott resolution. Perhaps those professors and researchers would learn something from the wisdom of the students at Bowdoin and U. Waterloo.

[Featured Image via Vote No Facebook page]

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